Home > The Hot Shot (Game On #4)(5)

The Hot Shot (Game On #4)(5)
Author: Kristen Callihan

She had assessed and dismissed me in a glance. While I’m used to being judged on my looks, I’m usually not found wanting. I shouldn’t give one great fuck. And I don’t really, except now I’m supposed to strip down in front of her and pose before the unyielding glare of her photo lens.

The studio is cordoned off by massive rolling wall panels that can be moved around to block off however much space she wants. I stare hard at those panels. The harsh lights she’s using set the ceiling aglow, a beacon of my impending doom. Music throbs through the loft, some techno beat with a woman singing in a sultry voice. It started up as soon as Jake had begun his shoot.

“What the hell is that music?” I mutter.

“Goldfrapp,” Dex says easily. “‘Strict Machine’ to be precise. Great song. But I expected Jake to go for AC/DC or something like that.”

“This is dance music.” I squeeze the back of my tense neck. “I’m now imagining Jake strutting around on a catwalk.”

Dex cracks a smile. “Don’t give me that visual.”

“If I’m haunted by it, I’m sharing.” I roll my shoulders. “Jesus, why the music, anyway?”

“You get a choice. Whatever makes you comfortable.” He shrugs again. “It was surprisingly easy.”

“I feel like I’m about to be offered up like a side of beef.”

“Grade A, prime, quarterback ass.” This from Rolondo, who exits the bathroom, where we’ve been offered the use of the showers to clean off after they oil us up. Jesus.

He huffs out a laugh. “You look like you’re about to toss your Wheaties. What’s the problem, Manny? Shit, you’ve given interviews in your birthday suit plenty of times.”

Yeah, I have. Nudity is not the problem.

“Is it your junk?” Rolondo flashes a grin. “You worried it won’t stack up—”

“You do realize I’ve seen your junk, Ro’. Worrying about stacking up is not a problem for me.”

His grin only gets bigger. “So you have been looking.”

Dex shakes his head at me. “You walked right into that one, friend.”

I might have smiled on any other occasion. Now, I only wave them off. “Play your reindeer games with someone else, boys.”

“Shit,” Rolondo says with a drawl. “You must be suffering if I can’t get your ass riled up.”

From the far end of the loft, I hear Ms. Copper tell Jake he did a great job. Which means James will be coming to get me any second. My heart starts to pound, and I run a cold hand over my hot face. “I’m uncomfortable with this, all right?” I tell my friends. “And I don’t really give a shit what that says about me.”

Silence greets me. Dex and Rolondo are both wearing somber expressions.

“Dude,” Dex finally says. “If you don’t want to do this, don’t. We aren’t machines. Say no.”

I glance at the partition, and shift my weight, the urge to turn tail and run creeping up the backs of my thighs. “The team agreed, so I agreed.”

“Woodson isn’t participating,” Rolondo points out. “Wife put her foot down.”

“Woodson is a kicker. I’m the quarterback. I say no, fans get disappointed. Besides, I already committed. Backing out wouldn’t be right.”

It’s too late, anyway. James strolls out from behind the partition. “Mr. Mannus,” he says, all business now. “Let’s get you ready.”

“Great,” I mutter.

I follow him to the changing area, and he gestures to a table covered with lumps of fabric, ranging from pale beige to dark brown. “If it makes you more comfortable, you can wear one of these.”

I frown down at the lumps. “These?”

James picks up a light brown cloth and shows me.

To my utter, fucking horror, it’s a thong. A man thong. “Oh, hell no.”

“Why do you all say that exact thing?”

“Two guesses.” I can’t even imagine the shit the guys would dole out to any poor fuck caught wearing that nightmare.

“We’d edit it out,” he assures, his lips twitching.

“And you think that’s why I’m objecting?” I glare at the thong in his hand.

He tosses the thong back with the others. “To be honest, I’m with you. I’ve tried one on. I don’t know how women stand it. Thing feels like the world’s worst wedgie.” He glances at the thongs, and then me. “Then again, it does great things for a tight ass.”

I don’t know if he’s hitting on me or not. Something in his eyes tells me he wouldn’t object if I offered to model one for him. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a guy try to flirt with me. Probably not the last either. Athletes and sex go hand in hand.

“As long as it isn’t my ass in one,” I tell him with a shrug.

He gives me a wry smile. “Right then. There’s robes or towels you can use after you strip down. When you’re ready, just head for the studio space.”

He leaves me to undress. The silence in the little space presses in on me. The laughter of the guys rings out, but it only serves to put more distance between them and me. I tug off my shirt, and try to shake the sensation of being exposed.

This is bullshit. Rolondo is right, I’ve never had a problem with people seeing me in the buff. I’m proud of my body. I’ve worked hard to perfect it and it works hard for me. But right now, I’m not asking it to perform a task. Right now, I’m expected to put it on display.

A year ago, I would have fine with that. Hell, I’d probably have preened like the fucking cock of the walk. Fame and adulation can swallow a person whole, until it’s all you think about. Until you believe its bullshit.

Funny how personal tragedy can strip the veil away so fast, it will make your head spin. I’m no longer blind to the bullshit, and, frankly, part of me would have preferred maintaining my ignorance. Because now I feel empty, and that yawing space inside me keeps growing.

“Jesus,” I mutter under my breath. “Just buck the fuck up and do your job.”

I undo the button of my jeans and tell myself that none of this matters. Then James shows up to oil my skin, “So that the camera can pick up every swell and dip.”

I really hate this day.


* * *




* * *


There’s an old saying: the camera never lies.

Photographers know this isn’t true. The camera—and by extension, a photo— lies all the time. We make it lie through manipulation. What looks one way in real life can appear completely different in a photo. Light and dark, negative space and angles, so many things come into play.

The concept of beauty changes with a camera. Some ordinary people come alive behind the lens. Something about the way the light hits them, and suddenly they are utterly beautiful. Haggard, craggy lines can be wondrous. And utterly breathtaking faces can fall oddly flat.

It is my job to find the story in a face, in a body.

I remind myself of this as James leads a sullen Finn Mannus into the studio.

From under my lashes, I watch Mannus move. There is no doubt about it; the man is put together well. So very well. Perfectly proportioned, bold features: a high-bridged, straight nose, a precise jawline, and sculpted lips.

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